Thursday, October 8, 2009


We've been doing video conference calls for work through LiveMeeting for a few months. After two years of audio only calls, I have to say that the video was helpful. It adds to the meeting and it keeps me more focused. It's not great, and it's not like being there, but it was better.

However we had some technical issues. Video and audio dropping out, and we were ready to go with the audio call and video through Livemeeting. I think it's the bandwidth to the company office in Cambridge, which seems spotty for video.

I've been also doing weekly calls with the editor of Simple Talk across Skype, and that seemed to work well for us. There have been times when one of us has dropped off, but the quality of the video and audio seemed much better than Livemeeting. So last week we actually tried Skype. It worked OK, except for the need to keep flipping a laptop around to see who was talking in the UK.

The problem with Skype is that it only does 2 way video calls. Brad, the other member of our team, lives in Hawaii, but was out of town last week. Adding him in wasn't possible through Skype, so it appeared we might be heading back to Livemeeting. That wasn't very exciting since we'll get dropouts of 1-3 minutes at times and it's not apparent that things are down. During my call to the office last week, my video kept freezing in Skype, despite my Multi-cam driver showing me it was still working locally.

Then I remembered a friend telling me about Oovoo. It's another service like Skype, but they have some business features not the least of which is up to a 6 way video call. It's not cheap al la carte, but they have some good plans, and it seems if they get some people using the service, it's a sustainable model and company.

I downloaded the client, and we set up a 3 way call today. They show each person in a little window, and it seems much more stable and easy to use than Skype. The client was a little unintuitive for me at first, but I got it working, and we had a 3 way video call that was the best quality we've had yet.

The one downside to video conferencing is the audio. During our Oovoo call we had echoing from one person's computer,and I assume it came from mine as well when the speakers outputted something and the mic picked it up. I put on headphones, which I think helped on my end, but we need to get some for the other people.

The conference room as well needs better mics. I think they probably need 4 or 5 directional mics that face each person since once they're around a square table that's 6 or 8 ft across, sounds echo in the room. The staccato British accent doesn't help as well.

Video conferencing has come a long way since I first tried to get it working for my boss in '94, and it's at the point where I think it works fairly well for short meetings.

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